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Budget Magic: Dubious Challenge (Pioneer)

Xsaqär, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we are heading to Pioneer to play a deck that sounds a bit like a meme but is actually surprisingly competitive in the format: Dubious Challenge! At first glance, Dubious Challenge looks like a card that simply can't work since our opponent gets the best of the two creatures it finds. With some careful deck building, it's possible to not only make sure that we get the most benefit from Dubious Challenge but also to turn the card into a somewhat consistent way to end up with a massive, game-ending threat like Worldspine Wurm or Zetalpa, Primal Dawn as early as Turn 3! How can we make Dubious Challenge less dubious in Pioneer on a budget? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Dubious Challenge (Pioneer)

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The Deck

Dubious Challenge is essentially a combo deck. Our main goal is to get a huge, expensive creature on the battlefield on Turn 3 with the help of Dubious Challenge and then ride a Worldspine Wurm, Void Winnower, or Zetalpa, Primal Dawn to victory in just one or two big attacks! It's also a really easy deck to break down since every card in our main deck supports our combo in one way or another.

Dubious Challenge

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Dubious Challenge is a card that is undoubtedly powerful, allowing us to put two creatures from the top 10 cards of our library directly onto the battlefield for just four mana. The problem is that our opponent gets not only one of the two creatures but first choice of creature, which means that if we cast Dubious Challenge naturally, our opponent will always end up benefiting more that we do (and double so since Dubious Challenge is a sorcery, so our opponent gets to untap and attack with their Dubious Challenge creature first). However, with a bit of deck building work, we can flip the script on Dubious Challenge and make sure that no matter what our opponent chooses, we will end up with the better of the two creatures Dubious Challenge finds.

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While we don't really want to hit mana dorks with Dubious Challenge, they are important to speeding up our deck. Any of Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, or Paradise Druid over the first two turns of the game allows us to cast Dubious Challenge and get a massive monster on Turn 3, which is enough to win the game in most matchups. The other upside of our mana dorks is that if the game goes long, they might allow us to hard cast our big Dubious Challenge targets, most of which cost eight or nine mana. 

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When we cast Dubious Challenge, we have two groups of creatures that we are hoping to hit (ideally one card from each group): enablers and finishers. The first group is enablers, which are cards that make sure no matter what our opponent chooses with Dubious Challenge, we will end up with the finisher. Both Charming Prince and Trostani Discordant get the job done. If we Dubious Challenge into Charming Prince and a finisher, our opponent will have two choices. They can take the finisher and give us the Charming Prince, and then we can use Charming Prince's enters-the-battlefield trigger (which conveniently exiles a creature we own, rather than control) to exile the finisher and get it back under our control at the end of our turn. If they choose the Charming Prince, they get a 2/2, but we end up with a massive finisher, so we win either way! Trostani Discordant is similar, giving everyone back they creatures they own on the end step. So if we Dubious Challenge into Trostani Discordant and a finisher, our opponent can take the Trostani Discordant and get a couple of 1/1 tokens out of the deal, but we get the finisher (and also the Trostani Discordant at the end of their turn). If they take the finisher, Trostani Discordant yoinks it back under our control on our end step.

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As far as finishers, we have a few options. Worldspine Wurm is the best of the bunch. A 15/15 trample on Turn 3 is really hard for most decks to beat, especially considering that even if our opponent manages to kill it, we will still get 15 trampling power thanks to the Wurm tokens it makes when it dies. Zetalpa, Primal Dawn isn't quite as scary as Worldspine Wurm, but it is still a fast, evasive clock that is hard for most decks to kill thanks to indestructibility. Since Path to Exile isn't in Pioneer, we don't even have to worry too much about exile-based removal. The main thing that can mess up our plan of winning with just a couple of attacks from Worldspine Wurm or Zetalpa, Primal Dawn is a bounce spell, like Brazen Borrower or Teferi, Time Raveler. But thankfully, these cards aren't that heavily played in Pioneer at the moment.

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Our other two finishers are less immediately game-ending than Worldspine Wurm or Zetalpa, Primal Dawn but are still quite powerful. Void Winnower is massive and randomly hoses some opponents by making even-converted-mana-cost spells uncastable. Meanwhile, Dragonlord Dromoka isn't the most exciting hit from Dubious Challenge, but at six mana, it is our easiest finisher to hard cast with the help of our mana dorks. Once Dragonlord Dromoka hits the battlefield, it is great against both control (where it makes sure our opponent can't counter our Dubious Challenges or See the Unwrittens) and aggro (because a 5/7 lifelinking body is really difficult for red-based aggro decks to beat). 

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Last but not least, we have See the Unwritten, which is essentially a slower backup version of Dubious Challenge, letting us grab a big finisher from among our top eight cards and put it directly into play for six mana. The only downside is that unless we've already cast a Dubious Challenge, we're unlikely to have ferocious, so we're usually just getting one finisher rather than two. But a six-mana Worldspine Wurm is still a great deal, especially considering that with the help of our 12 mana dorks, we can be casting See the Unwritten by Turn 4. Basically, since our deck is very dependent on Dubious Challenge to win the game, having just four copies isn't enough, and even if See the Unwritten is worse than Dubious Challenge in our deck, it's good enough and makes our plan much more consistent.


Overall, Dubious Challenge was surprisingly effective. We ended up going 4-1 in our five matches, only losing a three-game match to a GB Hardened Scales deck that was really good at having multiple copies of Hardened Scales on the battlefield early in the game. Apparently, Turn 3 Worldspine Wurm is pretty good in Pioneer.

In general, Dubious Challenge itself was great. While it does occasionally whiff, with eight enablers, we're 79% to hit at least one in our top 10 cards, while we do even better with finishers since we technically have nine, counting Dragonlord Dromoka. While ideally, we'd push the number of enablers up slightly (if we could get up to 10, we'd be over 86% to hit at least one), Charming Prince and Trostani Discordant are the only two options available in Pioneer, so we have to make do with that we have. Thankfully, the odds of us getting something that should win us the game with a Dubious Challenge is high enough to make it more than worth building around the card. Plus, a lot of people don't really understand how Dubious Challenge works, so we sometimes just get both creatures as a bonus for playing a weird card that nobody else plays!

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm really happy with how it turned out. There's probably an argument for slightly cutting back on the number of mana dorks and playing some main-deck interaction, but the game plan of being all-in on the combo in game one and then bringing in whatever removal or hate cards are best in a given matchup in game two was pretty effective in our matches.

All in all, Dubious Challenge felt surprisingly competitive. It sounds strange, but it might actually have a chance to be a real deck in Pioneer, especially in non-budget form with upgraded mana (having tapped dual lands can be a bit annoying, although we didn't really get punished for them in our matches). Worldspine Wurm is basically the Emrakul, the Aeons Torn of Pioneer, and cheating it into play on Turn 3 seems to be a really good way to win games against a lot of decks in the format, despite our plan's dubious nature.

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The biggest challenge for the ultra-budget build of Dubious Challenge is losing Worldspine Wurm. Our ultra-budget replacement is Aetherwind Basker, which is still a massive, trampling threat, but it loses the protection that Worldspine Wurm offers, making cards like Murderous Rider or other hard removal spells much more effective against the ultra-budget build of the deck. 

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Meanwhile in non-budget land, we get upgrades to the mana base and our finisher package, with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger and Emrakul, the Promised End replacing Void Winnower and a copy of Zetalpa, Primal Dawn. While we don't get the "cast" triggers from either of the Eldrazi, Emrakul, the Promised End is a two-turn clock (while Zetalpa, Primal Dawn is three turns), while Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger can win even through blockers by eating away the opponent's library. Otherwise, we get some slight upgrades to the sideboard and are good to go!


Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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